Integrating Schools — Creating More Connected Communities

Community conversations about socio-economic integration of students in our schools spurred me to become an education organizer 5 years ago.   I’ve come to be even more convinced that a healthy society depends upon people from all backgrounds connecting and developing relationships.   A few years ago, Burlington launched magnet schools for similar reasons discussed in this  recent American Prospect article about Omaha’s unique integration plan.  I’m intrigued by Omaha’s approach.  I believe the key is giving choice to parents and students within the public school system, and opportunities to find the school that best matches their child’s learning style, needs, and interests.

Nothing says it better than words of student themselves.  I’m inspired by Ariana, a student in Omaha who chose to go the more diverse, urban school over the one in her more affluent suburban town.

 As Ariana puts it, “My dad saw the worst in this area.” Now, almost four years later, he’s convinced she made the right choice.

Ariana has clearly thrived at Central, where she plays golf and tennis, and participates in the honors music society. She was accepted to every college to which she applied. With the exception of Spanish and aerobics, she takes all Advanced Placement courses. She even won a $10,000 college scholarship from Coca-Cola with an essay about tutoring her peers from Asia, Mexico, and the Sudan. “I have gained insurmountable respect for these students who fight through adversity,” she wrote in the essay. “The privilege of working with students unlike myself has humbled me. Without venturing beyond my suburban community, I would have missed the valuable life lessons found here.”

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